Integrative Health Blog

Seven Ways that Exercise Maintains a Healthy Brain

Posted by Dr. Teresa Fuller on Mon, Sep 22, 2014

Teresa Fuller MD, Phd

Our children’s brains are under attack.  Take a look at these startling statistics from a comprehensive surveillance report by the CDC that spanned 2005 - 2011 which shows that among children aged 3-17 years:


  • 6.8% have ADHD
  • 3.5% have behavioral or conduct problems
  • 3% have anxiety
  • 2.1% have depression
  • 1.1% have autism spectrum disorder 

Moreover, research by the National Alliance on Mental Illness has found that among children ages 9 to 17, 21% have a diagnosable mental or addictive disorder, and that suicide is the leading cause of death in youth ages 15 to 24.

These numbers show us why brain health is a major focus of research today.  The good news is that there are many things we already know about how to maintain a healthy brain.  Last week, we talked about the importance of “brain food.”  And here’s another habit that is critical to brain health -- exercise.  Your brain needs an abundant blood flow to sustain its high energy demands for function, and exercise is a great way to increase blood flow to the brain.

Here are 7 ways that exercise has been shown to benefit the brain:

  • Exercise reduces depressive and anxiety symptoms in adults and children. In fact, studies have shown that exercise can be as effective as anti-depressant medication.
  • Exercise is associated with improved self-esteem and improved behavior in children. 
  • Exercise can reduce symptoms of ADHD by increasing activity in the area of the brain responsible for self-control, planning, reasoning and abstract thought.
  • Studies have shown that physical activity enhances memory and learning, reasoning, attention, problem-solving and intelligence testing.  
  • Exercise also promotes neurogenesis, which is the production of new nerve cells.
  • Exercise protects the nervous system from injury and neurodegenerative disease.  Your risk of Alzheimer’s disease can be reduced by as much as 60% by exercise!
  • By reducing the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease which all have a negative effect on brain function, exercise further protects the brain.

I hope these 7 brain-boosting effects of exercise inspires you to get your kids (and yourself) moving. Remember, it is important to  nurture the whole child, and keep it simple and fun! 


pediatrician_holistic_integrativeTeresa Fuller MD, PhD, is an integrative pediatrician at National Integrated Health Associates, NIHA, serving Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia.  She is double board-certified in pediatrics and integrative holistic medicine with a doctorate in physiology. Dr. Fuller is in a unique position to positively impact the health of children by identifying  the underlying contributors to disease such as nutrient deficiencies, toxicities, infection and stresses, in order to reverse symptoms and restore your child’s health. Her focus is prevention of chronic illness and obesity in children and young adults, ADHD, asthma and allergies.

Topics: children's health, pediatrics, brain health